Pittsburgh Penguins Nation, however you define it, might as well be camped out at Kennywood in the early days of the season. It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride, with plenty of options for being jerked left, right, up and down, and with lunch a semi-permanent proposition.
With every game or two, the reviews change. Drastically.
Opening night loss with a blown two-goal lead. Same old stuff as last season.
Loss with a case of the mid-game doldrums. Lineup changes are imminent, or at least they should be.
Instant analysis after games has been all over the place.
Evgeni Malkin is fire and has great chemistry with new left winger Reilly Smith. The top two lines are again carrying too much of the burden, with the bottom six, to put it kindly, not performing well enough. Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang can make it work on the same team. The third pairing portends doom. Tristan Jarry is great. Tristan Jarry is inconsistent.
She’s my daughter. She’s my sister…
And so it has gone as the Penguins have stutter-stepped to a 2-2 start.
It’s understandable to at least some degree.
There was great anticipation and curiosity coming into the season, given new grand poobah Kyle Dubas, his revamped management staff, and an offseason of considerable roster change. And given that the Penguins missed the playoffs last spring for the first time since 2006.
Things did not get any steadier Thursday when Letang and forward Noel Acciari missed practice, and coach Mike Sullivan said both are being evaluated for injuries.
It would be no surprise that inside the organization, the Penguins would guard against being on any sort of emotional rollercoaster. Pro athletes and staff tend to try to keep things as even-keel as possible while living with a short-term outlook.
Sullivan, however, took what we will call an interesting approach Thursday when asked about the ups and downs the fan base, and even those paid to offer analysis of the Penguins, have experienced in the opening days of the season.
He planted his tongue firmly in his cheek.
“I love the passion of the fan base and the media and all you guys that are on the rollercoaster ride with us. For me, it’s just evidence that you (reporters) really care about the Penguins and you have a sincere interest in us having success, and when we don’t, you guys get mad just like we do,” Sullivan said, barely suppressing a smile.
“For me, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The coach turned serious for a couple moments.
“When you look at the nature of the game and how it’s being played, it’s an emotional game and my experience of being associated with this league for however many years is that it can be a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster,” he said.
“Teams go through ups and downs during the season. There are challenges along the way that inevitably come their way, and how you handle those challenges in a lot of ways, it dictates your ability to have success. We’re in a young season. We’ve played a lot of good hockey that we’ve really liked, and then we’ve had some parts of our game that we haven’t liked so much.
“We’ve got mixed results to this point. Our expectations are higher, but that’s part of the process. And we’ll continue to go through that process with our players. For me that’s the journey of going through the season with your team. That’s what I love about what we do.”
Then, Sullivan turned back to poking the media.
“With respect to the rest of you guys that are on that emotional rollercoaster with us, we really appreciate how much you care.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins next play Saturday at St. Louis. That will make it five in a row against fellow non-playoff teams to start the season.
Perhaps the Penguins’ game will even out.
But just in case, better buckle up, Pittsburgh Penguins Nation.